October 18, 2020 Indrajit Hazra
If you’re liberal and you’re lazy, clap your hands. But then, if you’re truly liberal and you’re lazy, you’d be too lazy to clap your hands. Instead, you’d be shocked to discover a new Bigotry of the Week, then register your dismay on social media — or, if you’re entitled enough, in a weekend column in mainstream media — and stew in your own juices till the next Bigotry of the Week comes banging at the door.
This week, it was a Tanishq ad whose point was to sell its jewellery. It turns out that like Fifty Shades of Grey somehow finding its way into a school library, the ad reached the wrong target customer: conservative Hindus who don’t like the notion of their beta-betis marrying Muslims at all — something that the jewellery brand sought to promote while making its sales pitch.Social media — like sex chat rooms and WhatsApp groups — magically empowers shy, timid souls by providing them a cover of anonymity. So, while the notion of inter-faith marriage, and the idea of an ad extolling it, horrify many (you don’t have to be a troll to be conservative), raging about it in apoplectic terms as ‘love jihad’ etc is little else but a counter-campaign to a warm, fuzzy ad campaign, both of which get amplified by social media and then ‘unsocial’ media. And when the outrage on social media’s ether bubbles up into the real world in the form of some people reportedly barging into a showroom in Gujarat, demanding a note of ‘apology to the Hindu community’ on behalf of the store that’s put up and later removed, we have an anklet turned into a broken ankle, a necklace turned into a strangled neck.The liberal outrage against the illiberal bile is justified. But it follows a certain, well-established playbook at the centre of which lies mass distraction. In the larger scheme of things, the issue of inter-faith marriage and its discontents is a frisbee in the park. As is Tanishq’s decision to react to the ‘unease of doing business’ by removing the ad. Their business, their decision — especially when the job of advertising their brand has gone well beyond the remit of the commissioned ad, thanks to literally free agents.All that glitters may not be gold, but it can certainly be distracting if distraction is the need of the hour. The country, as far as one can tell, is not being overrun either by Hindu-Muslim nuptials, or by Hindu inbreeding on the lines of the 1979 Rajkumar Kohli ‘horror-romance’ classic, Jaani Dushman. One can safely (sic) presume that job losses, salary cuts, dip in household earnings, returning to schools and dying of Covid apart, matters like law and order as displayed in the handling of rape, and the one-upmanship in pre-election political violence are more worrying issues. As sheer time-pass, even the rolled-out, Manali hash-tagged Bollywood saga scores over this tinsel products advertisement.Liberal laziness, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to give the Tanishq episode its due unimportance. A business enterprise being given bad, negative customer feedback because of unsavoury, narrow-minded reasons isn’t exactly the advent of bigotry. That circus came to town and pitched its tent a while back.But by giving this episode — runts ranting on social media and venting their pent-up fantasies about customer penetration and brand unfaithfulness — so much bhao, those denouncing hidebound neurotics are feeding these ferrets and making them fat with a cause, however, inane, unjust and against the law (Special Marriage Act, 1954) their foaming.com may be. Instead of starting, say, a #MarryAMuslim campaign, or invoking ‘Secular India’ to ears that, like Maharashtra governor B S Koshiyari’s pairs, deem the word ‘secular’ to mean something sinister, liberals should utilise what has usually been considered their domain weakness: laziness.
Liberals, whether from the left, right or centre, usually do not go barging in to put up notices on shopfronts, attack bastions of illiberalism or intolerance, proactively seek the removal of copies of Mein Kampfs or the Little Red Book from bookstores, or protest outside and damage property of cinemas depicting Kangana Ranaut movies. This culture of ‘boycotting’ over ‘removing’ fundamentally skews the matter in favour of the more active, more vitriolic ‘opinionated’, especially when administrations use them as dog show attack dogs with no leash leading back to the administrations.But, to quote a well-known radical Conservative’s advice to democratic nations, liberals in India must try to find ways to starve the figurative terrorist and hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend. With the art and science of opposition mostly in the doghouse these days, knowing what are issues and what are non-issues and then letting the latter lie is a sound strategy. Tanishq, one can safely presume, can deal with its own pre-Diwali publicity and sales, especially in these days of enhanced online commercial activity.